Moussia 20: 1920: “Rescuing the Czar”

‘the peacherino from the Metropole’    ‘the dark-eyed Circe with the Greek nose’

In article 19, I have described the circumstances under which Moussia moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1919 and shown how she made her stage debut in the Majestic theatre. With the help of Vladimir, she moved into a bungalow together with the Rumanov couple, Michal and his wife Ariadna, an accomplished concert pianist. The fact that  Moussia was moving in with the Rumanovs gave rise to occasional rumors that there might be a relationship between the two women and that they would live in a ‘ménage à trois’ with Michal. This rumor was still heard by Serge Prokofiev upon his first meeting with the two women in Los Angeles on December 29, 1920 (I shall come back to this meeting in a later article, see also article 3). He found out quickly that the rumor was untrue. Vladimir, upon his return in San Francisco, rented a room at 120, Ellis Street at San Francisco and, later that year, disappeared. It has become clear to me that his disappearance  had to do with the publication in July of that year of a book entitled “Rescuing the Czar”.

In July 1920, the California Printing Company (Director Henry Haskin), printed, bound and shipped to its authors, who called themselves ‘translators’,  a book titled Rescuing the Czar. This book, by James P. Smythe, Ph.D., presented separate on-the-spot accounts by two men, in a confusing manner, of how they had managed to rescue the Czar and his family in 1918, through an underground tunnel. They were: a British intelligence operator Charles James Fox and a Russian nobleman posing as a Bolshevik, by the name of Alexei Syvorotka. Towards the end of the operation, Alexei Syvorotka suffered from typhus, leaving the reader in some uncertainty as to whether he had survived or not.

Throughout the book, in the accounts of both Fox and Syvorotka, there is recurrent mention of a ‘femme fatale,’  “the Baroness B.”, alias “The girl  from the Metropole”, alias Lucie de Cleve, vaudeville actress.  My faithful readers, please read this book, you will have no problem in recognizing Moussia in this femme fatale. The Metropole is obviously inspired by the Majestic theatre in Los Angeles where she performed in November 1919. Syvorotka resembles Vladimir Baranovsky, with a touch of George Romanovsky. The “energetic dark-eyed Circe with the Greek nose” must be inspired by Ariadna Rumanov. “I wonder what is the connection between the two … there is certainly some sympathetic tie between the two girls… who is Syvorotka? Her lover? I wonder what the game is… Come to think about it, the titled performer at the Metropole looks like a twin sister of Marie Amelia, Countess of Chechany, a perfect composite of Juno and Venus and Hebe all rolled into one.” This resemblance makes us think immediately of the newspaper hoaxes of November 1918, see articles 12 and 13, when Moussia was thought to be Princess Tatiana in disguise.

An arbitrary choice of further quotes from this book, which had the purpose of ‘setting at rest the fable of the Romanoff Execution’: “All I ask is: if you find out whether that fellow ‘Fox’ grabs the peacherino from the Metropole or the one called ‘Maria’, you’ll send me an invitation.” (I suspect that the name Fox was chosen because it was the name of Fox Film Corporation). There are epithets of the Metropole girl which remind us of  “bad little, bold little siren” in the newspaper article shown in article 19: ‘veiled minx’, ‘that hissing vixen’. We learn that Syvorotka was married before to a certain Maroussia, who was regrettably shot. Which name does that remind us of? In Syvorotka’s more serious discussions with the Baroness B. there are details which make us think immediately of Moussia and Vladimir’s history and of the moment of their separation. There are a lot of details which we recognize, the most obvious one being the detailed address of Vladimir and his parents in Petrograd: “I was greatly surprised when I heard that Mr. Kerensky is living in the Rossia Insurance Company Apartments, Puskarskaya 59, Flat 10.” (see article 9 and following)

I believe that there is a good chance that this book was written by Michal Rumanov, the husband of Ariadna. He was a writer and journalist, probably still out of work. He must have been the ‘mystery man’ whom Henry Haskin saw correcting proofs in George Romanovsky’s office.The text was no doubt based on input by Vladimir Baranovsky and the two ‘translators.’

I am infinitely grateful to Shay McNeal, who in her meticulously researched book of 2001, The secret plot to save the Tsar (latest edition 2003, by Perennial, Harper Collins), has gone a long way to unravel the background of Rescuing the Tsar (1920). In her book, which I highly recommend to all my readers, she first deals with the general question if the Czar and his family were saved and dismisses in a well-reasoned manner the official notion that DNA would have proved that the remains found in 1991 near Ekaterinburg were those of the Imperial family. She then goes into the details of various rescue plans which have existed.  The book Rescuing the Czar is covered in the last Part of her book,  IV, chapters 14-16. She proves convincingly that this book, which has often been dismissed as a bizarre invention, should be taken more seriously because it contains an amazing number of facts, incidents and persons that no one except an insider, someone who was on the spot, could have known. So, her book leaves the possibility open that the Czar and his family were saved.

In her book, Vladimir and Maria Baranovsky are only briefly mentioned, as acquaintances of the Russian Acting Consul George Romanovsky who were close to Kerensky.  But, through lack of information, Shay McNeal fails to establish a further connection between them and the book Rescuing the Czar and she tries to associate the book’s protagonists with others.  I quote in summary the essence of Shay McNeals magnificent research work on what happened in 1920 with the book, which is an adventure by itself:

  • 10 March 1920: William Rutledge McGarry, a narrator of British war films, and the Russian Acting Consul in San Francisco George Romanovsky agreed to ‘arrange and prepare for the publication of a book called “The Prisoners of Tobolsk”’. The book, retitled Rescuing the Czar, after printing and binding by the California Printing Company, was delivered to its “translators” on 21 July 1920.
  • Complicated links between the Americans, British, Czechs, French, Germans, Japanese and Bolsheviks included events and people in San Francisco in 1920, who themselves had been involved in the Russian situation in 1918. For example, George Romanovsky was involved in moving large arms shipments and in attempts to bring a substantial portion of the Tsarist gold reserve to America, a subject about which he corresponded with McGarry already in 1919.
  • Rescuing the Czar immediately attracted a lot of attention. A second and third edition followed rapidly. The possibility of a film deal came up already in August 1920 when McGarry requested Major Samuel White, Office of the Judge Advocate, War Department in San Francisco, to contact for him Willam G. McAdoo, the former Secretary of the Treasury to which reported the US Secret Service in 1918. McGarry visited McAdoo in Washington in September, but the result of the meeting was very different from what he had in mind. After the meeting, the book was taken off the market and all offers for sale of the book’s rights for serialisation and film were withdrawn. The book died an instant death. Today, the book in its original first edition costs about 900 dollars, a second or third edition a few hundred less. However, the book was reprinted a few years ago and is now available at low cost.
  • Shay McNeal concludes that the book must have been constructed by someone with so much detailed inside knowledge of the events surrounding the Imperial family, that Governments forced its disappearance and she even goes as far as adding: “Down through the decades, rumours have floated among members of various intelligence communities that the brief life of Rescuing the Czar may have cost the lives of some British, American and other Allied nations’ agents. That assertion has never been confirmed.”
  • Only around 1926 did it become public knowledge that McGarry and Romanovsky were the ‘translators’ of the book.

Against this background, it is very clear why Vladimir Baranovsky disappeared in 1920. He feared for his life. He continued to live in the United States under an assumed name, as I will  elucidate in the following paragraphs and articles. But not before I have added one more very interesting quote from Shay McNeal’s book:

  • “President Roosevelt piqued my interest, when I learned that in the 1930s he had told to an aide that he had a mystery story whose ending he could not solve and that he had wanted to write for years but had never had time to undertake the task. His aide responded that if the President would share his storyline with him he would engage six writers to work out the ending for the President./…/ Roosevelt provided them with the beginnings of a tale about a Russian man who was wealthy, well-known and wanted to disappear with enough of his fortune to live on, but be perceived as dead.” Shay McNeal continues: “His story’s character seemed to mirror that of the Tsar.”

I think that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s story was not about the Tsar but about Vladimir Baranovsky, who in 1920 went to Chicago and later to New York, under the name of Vladimir Barstow. He became a successful bridge designer and a very proud citizen of the United States.

This is by no means the end of this story. In the following article I am going to discuss the well-written thriller by Gretchen Haskin, the daughter-in-law of the printer of Rescuing the Czar: An Imperial Affair (The Dial Press, New York, 1980) in which Moussia and Vladimir also appear. She uses Rescuing the Czar as a basis but with George Romanovsky in the role of Syvorotka. Little did she know… Or did she know?

And, of course, I owe you an account of what really happened to Vladimir. Only this very morning I received definite proof that indeed he did go back to Siberia during the Russian Civil War, with a mission. I am in contact with the Hoover Institute in Stanford University, California, in search of the exact timing. I owe, again, to Shay Mc Neal the knowledge that Pavel Bulygin, appointed by the Russian Dowager Empress to investigate the death or or otherwise of the Russian Imperial family, was forced to abandon his plans to publish a book on the subject in the early 1920s. When finally, in 1935, he published “The murder of the Romanovs”, there was no mention anymore of Vladimir Baranovsky which he had planned to do, as is known from his original outline of the book.  That outline and his notes on Baranovsky are still in the Shinkarenko Collection in the Hoover Institute.

(to be continued)


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